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What happens when leaders delegate?

The best gift any coach can give to a senior leader is to help them learn to delegate tasks that others on their team have the capacity to do. Most every leader I ask says they keep doing a few things someone else on their team could effectively do. Why? Because they don’t want to take the time to hand it off. They assume they can do it better and faster than anyone else. The result is that they become the bottleneck to achieving the productive potential of a high performing team. Delegation is a learned competency answering the what, who, how, when interrogatives. Leaders have three options: (1) not delegating, (2) delegating prematurely, (3) delegating developmentally.

What Happens When Leaders Delegate?
The best gift any coach can give to a senior leader is to help them learn to delegate tasks that others on their team have the capacity to do. Most every leader I ask says they keep doing a few things someone else on their team could effectively do. Why? Because they don’t want to take the time to hand it off. They assume they can do it better and faster than anyone else. The result is that they become the bottleneck to achieving the productive potential of a high performing team. Delegation is a learned competency answering the what, who, how, when interrogatives. Leaders have three options: (1) not delegating, (2) delegating prematurely, (3) delegating developmentally.

How to Achieve Your Organization’s Productive Potential

Saving one hour per week gives the leader an extra 48 hours per year to do more important work. That is the equivalent of one full day every other month. That leader can schedule a bi-monthly strategic thinking day away from the ​office. Gather the most relevant data about your industry, market, product, customer, competition, employees, and technological changes. Analyze the insights. What story emerges? Synthesize the application points to move from your current realities to your future preferred state. This is not your strategic plan. It represents what strategic thinking is all about within the execution of a more formal strategic plan.

It’s a Win, Win, Win

Leaders who add the learned competency of delegation to their leadership toolbox achieve three empowering consequences:

  • Many in senior leadership were promoted because they were an operational subject matter expert. As an operational leader they devoted 80% of their time to operations and 20% to strategy. Once promoted to senior leadership that changes to 80% of time invested in strategy and 20% in operations. Under pressure it’s easy for leaders to default to their expertise in operations. It’s the leadership mistake. When you trust your team to fully delegate both the responsibility and the authority, then you recapture time to stay focused on the work of strategy that is uniquely yours to do. If you don’t, then no one else will accept your competition.
  • Handing off stretch assignments is part of the means of developing team members on their career pathway to leading at higher levels of organizational complexity. It’s how leaders move high potentials from a talent pool to a leadership development pipeline for future succession planning. You don’t just hand off full responsibility and full authority. Consider developmental delegation as a process that leverages four messages at each stage of readiness to take on new responsibilities.

Step One: Represents low responsibility and low authority. The message: “Come watch me do this.”

Step Two: Represents high responsibility and low authority, The message: “Let’s do this together.”

Step Three: Represents low responsibility and high authority. The message: “Now I will watch you do this.”

Step Four: Represents high responsibility and high authority. The message: “Now it’s yours to do.”

Each step takes time before moving to the next step, and each step involves intentional conversation to debrief the questions, ideas, and next steps before moving on.

  • Pushing every direct report to work at the top of their potential capacity enables the organization to discover its productive potential. The call to do more with less is the result of high potentials learning to do their work effectively and efficiently. Consider the impact on your bottom line if you could enhance organizational productivity by 5%. It’s possible when leaders delegate and teach their direct reports to delegate as well.

Executive Summar​y​

Delegation is a handing off​ ​process followed by a​ letting go process. Handing off is the assignment the leader gives to a team member. Letting go gives the team member the authority to use the time and resources of the organization to reach a shared goal. When leaders skip any of the four developmental delegation stages it diminishes leadership capacity and organizational productive potential. Until you let go you have not fully delegated. “Process” is the key word. You need to invest in getting a team member up to speed to take over some of your tasks. The short term perspective says, “I don’t have time to do that.” The long term perspective sees the ultimate payoff of gaining time to do the more important work of strategic leadership. What could you give away? To whom? When? How will you get them ready to take on full responsibility with full authority? Once you recapture time by delegating what others could be doing, then you begin to see around the corner what others do not yet see. That’s essential to leading for the long haul. Questions for your personal reflection: (1) What do you keep doing that someone on your team could be doing? (2) Is it harder for you to delegate responsibility or to give full authority? (3) What’s one thing you could delegate tomorrow and truly let go? (4) Who would you delegate that one thing to? (5) How will you use that extra time you have recaptured?

If you need support on your organisation’s and leader’s coaching journey, do contact us at ICF and our team of volunteers in the UK will be happy to help.

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